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Insider Interview: David Baker from Family Communications

Written by Michael Assad on October 29, 2012

David Baker is the Vice-President - Marketing & Digital for Family Communications Inc. David helps this lean and mean independent publisher compete with the big boys in the parenting and bridal markets, with their ParentsCanada and Today's Bride brands. He's yet to send his first tweet but that hasn't deterred his eight loyal followers @fabdaddybakes who sense that first one is going to be a beauty.

David, your role as VP Marketing at Family Communications has you wearing many brand hats – in a nutshell what’s your role at the company and the key objectives for you as they relate to the various brands?

Like everyone in our company, I wear a lot of hats and not just marketing hats. We’re a small enough company that I’m our legal department. I do our circulation marketing. But a lot of my efforts are on marketing and particularly right now on digital because another part of my portfolio would be just new business development and the way the world is going, that’s mostly digital these days.

We have two key brands – ParentsCanada on the parenting side and Canadian Bride and Today’s Bride on the bridal side. One of the interesting things is that we’ve been in this business for a long time but only recently have really taken building our brands seriously and that’s because of the way the market has changed. We used to be happy to just get our magazine in the hands of the people at the right time and let the rest sort of take care of itself. Now, with our ParentsCanada audience extending to moms with 12-year-olds and beyond, it’s more important that we have that brand, that they keep coming back to us, that they know who we are and trust us. So that’s been a new development for us. And then the other side is that because so much of our revenue and business is not just through the magazine – it is digital – we can’t rely on just having a well-distributed magazine to introduce our brand to the consumer.

One of the interesting things is that we’ve been in this business for a long time but only recently have really taken building our brands seriously and that’s because of the way the market has changed.

Does your team work on both the print magazines and digital sites or do you have separate teams for each? 

It’s mostly shared. The focus at our company with most of our staff is still on the print side. They deliver a print product that we then push out across platforms. We do have a small web team. It’s just two people and that’s for all of our brands so they take the online content, use the Agility Content Management System to push that out across the platforms and we are working very hard with the limited resources that we have to create a lot of web-only and digital-only content because with our publishing schedule, it’s not good enough to update your website eight times a year. We’re doing that daily and that’s the real challenge for us.

Does your print audience vary from your digital audience on each brand? If so – how and why do you think that is? 

Certainly the demographics of the audiences are very similar. Our parenting site and our magazine are obviously attracting parents. Mainly moms – a heavy focus towards moms with younger kids, pregnant and within the first couple years. And that’s the same both with print and online. The difference really is that even within those demographics they’re quite different. We have a number of people who come to our website who aren’t familiar with our magazine and we still have lots of people who read our magazine who aren’t regular visits to our digital properties. So there’s obviously opportunities there but I think it does show that different people like to consume their media in different ways and choose different platforms and it’s important that the medium matches what we’re trying to deliver. Our audience uses the different mediums for different things and we make sure that we offer different things digitally that are more useful in that medium than things in the magazine.

How do you use the sites to interact with your digital audience (promotions/contests/polls/surveys etc.)?  

On the straight content side, one of the important things for us is to be able to offer timely content. Our magazine publishing schedule with ParentsCanada is eight times a year and in the past it’s been six and before that it was four – so with a magazine being out there for a long period of time, anything that’s of a timely nature, we couldn’t cover in the magazine, even something like Mother’s Day. We couldn’t put a Mother’s Day package together in the magazine because half of our readers would get the magazine before Mother’s Day. The other half would get it after Mother’s Day has come and gone. So digitally, that’s obviously something that we can respond to and that’s been fun for us. We create a lot of packages online that just don’t make sense in the magazine.

The other big area is more in the interactive tool kind-of end. Our biggest, most visited feature on ParentsCanada is our baby name finder. It’s an interactive tool where you can put in a background, a meaning and it delivers you names – or you can put in the name and find out what the meaning is – and obviously that’s something that works digitally and doesn’t work in the magazine. The other big part of course is the interaction that we get on the website. Moving to Agility was the first time that allowed commenting on our site. We’ve got very active forums, talk boards, that have been around pre-Agility days and continue to have – remarkably to us – a growing life of their own even though in some ways it seems like an antiquated way with all the social media that’s out there. But we still have people that like sticking to our forums on the website. 

What role does social media play for your brands? What frequency do the brands commit to with this extended content? 

We see lots of differences. On the parenting side Facebook is more important to us than Twitter. On the bridal side, it’s the other way around. With our limited resources, it’s really important to us that we do put the resources where they get the most action and for us. It’s really referrals back to the website. That’s our main metric with what we’re doing on social media and we’re still trying to figure it out. Clearly there’s opportunities there. We’re having some successes but it is a very difficult one with limited resources measuring the ROI.

Our biggest social media success so far just happened last week and it wasn’t anything we did. Somebody on one of our forums posted a craft on how to turn a print of your baby’s hand into a Santa Claus Christmas ornament. So they had done this at home and they posted it in our forums – and actually posted it in our forums in the lead up to Christmas two years ago so it had been sitting on our forum for two years. It had a nice little picture of the finished product. Somebody – last week – not us posted the picture on Pinterest. We had 20,000 visits to the website generated from that Pinterest post which for us, 20,000 is a big number. It  definitely shows the potential of social media for us.

Family Communications currently has 2 magazine websites that are powered by AgilityCanadian Bride and ParentsCanada. What fueled the decision to upgrade the design and functionality of your previous sites?

We were using a rather outdated platform on both of our sites. The content management system was not state of the art and it became clear to us that with our limited resources that we needed a technology that was going to be effective, efficient, inexpensive. We did a lot of looking around and the Agility solution really made a ton of sense for us.

How has the Agility Magazine Suite enabled your team to work faster/smarter in terms of posting and managing content?

It’s a really clean, efficient system. One of the important things for us, particularly on the Parents Canada site – actually on both sites – a lot of our content is evergreen content. While we respond to things that are in the news, how to raise a baby hasn’t changed a whole lot in the last ten years and one of the things that we need to do on the website is take that evergreen content and push it in a way that makes it look new and interesting, makes the site look refreshed by pushing around and displaying the different content in different places on the site everyday and Agility has a really nice scheduling feature that allows us to do that. That’s really just done with one person curating the existing content and scheduling it in a way that makes it new and interesting.

Another key feature for us that we’re really just starting to roll out now is the ability to have outside people post content and whether that’s done through a blog or as an article, one of the cool things about Agility is that that is seamless. It’s like content is content and then we can choose how we deliver that content and of course for us, it makes sense to deliver it every way possible. That’s been a really nice feature as well.

The one metric that is the most striking and that I think is directly attributable to our switch in platforms is our page-views per visit. We were around 2.2, 2.5 on the old Canadian Bride site. Now we’re averaging over six page views per visit.

Did your site traffic increase with the relaunch of the sites? If so – by how much?

We’ve had the Agility platform on the bridal site for a longer time and we’ve definitely seen some big increases there. Probably the biggest thing, the one metric that is the most striking and that I think is directly attributable to our switch in platforms is our pageviews per visit. We were around 2.2, 2.5 on the old Canadian Bride site. Now we’re averaging over six page views per visit. That’s because one of the neat content delivery mechanisms that the Agility platform has is the gallery feature. Now we’re having people spend way more time on our galleries, going through, looking at dresses, looking at real weddings, looking at flowers. That’s been a key driver for us. With ParentsCanada, it’s a little early to tell. The summer is slow for parenting sites in particular. Just now we’re starting to roll out the user generated content module so we expect to see some real benefits in traffic there as well.

How have your advertisers responded to your websites and do you have any creative advertising executions you could share?

Just from a technical point of view, it’s made our life dealing with advertisers so much easier. We’ve been able to integrate the DoubleClick for Publishers system in with the Agility platform seamlessly. That has made our reporting and traffic projections and all that kind of stuff so much more seamless. We’re able to work with any standard of creative that’s coming in and we can deliver whereas with our old system, most of the time we could make something work but it would often take a little bit of extra work and that was problematic. Obviously more traffic means more ability for us to generate more money with our advertisers and the look of the site – it looks great. To be honest, on the graphic side, our old sites were fine, from the consumer point-of-view they looked like nice sites. The real advantage with Agility for us was making everything much more functional and making it look that good with no effort as opposed to the amount of effort that it used to take to keep the site looking clean and fresh.

Do you have any final advice for people  who are are thinking about checking out Agility's Magazine Suite?

I would just check it out. I think that everybody’s needs are different but there’s no doubt that for us that it was the perfect solution. We got the sense immediately that Agility understood what magazine publishers moving to the internet needed.

When we come up with something that isn’t in the basic package you guys have been able to respond to that and I think are making some of those things part of the package so that’s been a really great relationship for us and something that we look forward to continuing. 


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